Let me share with you the sermon workflow I have developed over the last few years. It has been extremely helpful and gives me plenty of time to work on sermons throughout the week and ALWAYS be done on Thursday. I then get a day off (Friday) without stressing about my sermon and an almost free Saturday. I started developing this system with the help of Preaching Rocket.
I do most of my sermon work the week of, with some pre-work allowing me to maximize my week of time. Here is what happens in this “pre” phase.
My Sermon Workflow
Before the week of:
I work on all of my sermons utilizing Evernote. I keep one note with a broad list of titles/scriptures/series ideas and anything else. Whenever a sermon makes it into the calendar, it get’s a note all to itself. If it is part of a series, the series gets a note as well. This way I can sketch out the big theme (and all the marketing, images and anything else) looking at all the texts/titles together.
The benefit of this system is huge. These notes serve as a dumping ground. Whenever I come across anything that might be useful, I can simply drop it into the note and forget about it.
When I am 2-3 weeks out from starting a series I start working through the big idea, getting the titles and texts organized in a good flow. I look through any potential resources. I also try to figure out the “big ideas” before I jump into weekly prep. All this allows the series to flow and interact well with the other messages. I didn’t always do this and it was pretty scattered.
During my usual weekly review I finish with some light sermon prep. I read the passage a few times and pray through what I want to tell people and ask them to do. I start filling out my sermon worksheet (this is my secret weapon and you can get it for free here) at this time. It might just be a few details or it might be even farther out.
During the morning I spend about 1.5 hours on my sermon. I do it pretty early in the morning when my creative juices are flowing. I read through the passage a few more times and ask questions of the text. I pray about what God is asking us to do at the end.
In the afternoon I take a final 30 minutes with the passage and my worksheet. At this time I want to have the first draft of my big idea done. All of the structural elements are completed (big idea, the ask and the intended response).
This is exegesis day. I generally give around 3-4 hours to this task, usually in the afternoon. I read through the passage a few more times. If any words or concepts look really important I notate it down. I write down any questions I have as I read through the passage. If I feel the need to do any translation, I do it here.
After I feel I have spent a good bit of time in the text on my own I go to commentaries and dictionaries. I try to answer any questions I have, fill in some gaps for historical data and any relationships this passage has with others. I am just dumping any information that I think might help out. I use post-it notes for much of this and build a HUGE pile of them. Sometimes I have to chart out movements or other linguistic stuff.
I don’t organize any of this, just get it all in front of me. Once I am done with this process, I look back at my sermon sheet and get rid of any information that doesn’t help me support the big idea. I pray through this process as well. I have been known to trash my sheet and refill it out at this moment.
The last thing I do is make a narrative map of the sermon. If you are familiar with mind mapping-this is pretty similar.
This is my main writing day. I usually give 6 hours to sermon work on Wednesday.
I start working through all of the information and organize it into a logical flow. I start broad and slowly start working my way down. The post-its come in handy because I can always rearrange things. I write down illustration ideas on their own post-it and put them into the workflow as well. I also start building my ideas for my images/slides. They get their own color of post-it and live above the larger timeline (I build this on the wall going horizontal).
Once I feel the shape is getting pretty good I write a draft. This draft is ROUGH. I usually immediately read it out loud to myself and fix the problem areas. If I need to get back into the text to make sure something isn’t just me saying it, I will go back and do it at this point.
After I have edited the first draft I will read it aloud to myself again this time. I notate any places change needs to happen. Usually, these are illustrations.
I draw out how my slides will support the sermon and aid the congregation in listening and processing.
Mid-morning on thursday I write my final draft. I look over any of the notes I made on the last draft on Wednesday. Sometimes I will preach it aloud again before starting on my final draft. After the final draft is complete I will read it aloud 2 more times. I will spend 30 minutes or so working on my slides. I will preach the final draft once more with the slides. I control them from my iPad (where my manuscript is also), so I can do this with just my laptop. No need to fire up the whole projection system.
I write the sermon preview at this point and put it up on my blog.
Usually this is done by 2 on Thursday afternoon so I can spend the rest of the day tying up loose ends before I take my day off.
Nothing. I don’t touch my sermon.
My wife goes to bed early. After she hits the sack on Saturday I preach through my sermon 2 more times. By this point, I am familiar with it and this is simply a run through to make sure everything still makes sense. I do a very minimal amount of editing at this point.
I wake up at 5 on Sunday morning. I read through my sermon once, just a quick flow through to make sure it is on the top of my head.
I hope sharing my workflow has been helpful for you. It helps me preach better sermons as well as be mentally prepared to preach on Sunday. I am never worn out because of a late Saturday evening sermon session!
My Sermon Planning Worksheet
My Favorite Resources for Modern Preaching
Teaching a Retreat? This is How I Plan